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NOTE:  This is a theory in progress.  It may prove false in time, and documenting my work here is part of that proof.  Alternately, it may prove true or inconclusive.  In the mean time, please enjoy thinking through the questions and evidences raised here.

THE GIST

What if the narrative of Genesis 1 were not about the out-of-nothing creation of the Universe and our Planet Earth, but rather, about both the creation of humankind and its early habitat, and the establishing of a societal order for humans and their angel-type overseers?  What if the “firmament” or “expanse” (raqiya in the Hebrew), which God named the “heaven” (shamayim in the Hebrew) did not cover the entire Planet Earth, but only a portion of it?  What if the word translated as “Earth” in Genesis 1 was not used as a name for our planet, but simply for the part of the planet that God sectioned off for his work?  What if the “ends of the earth” and the “four corners of the earth” were not, as some suppose, the metaphorical expressions of geologically -ignorant Ancient Near Eastern writers, but were actually accurate descriptors of the world as it existed in their day?  That is, what if they lived inside a limited habitat established for them as narrated in Genesis 1 and in various other Bible passages?

In other words, what if the mistakes in understanding these matters were ours, and not theirs?

WHY?

I will set out for you below the main reasons I have developed this theory in an attempt to solve the puzzle.  If I have got any of this wrong, please be kind and demonstrate to me where and how I have erred.

Genesis 1:And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. (KJV)

What was created here?  What was its purpose?  Why did the “waters” need to be “divided” or separated in the first place?  How did it work?  What were the dimensions of this “firmament”?  How is it that the firmament was called “heaven” (shamayim in the Hebrew) if God had already created the heavens (shamayim) in Genesis 1:1, as so many believe?  Was this the same “heaven” where God had his throne?  Was this the same “heaven” to which the faithful dead go for eternity?

These questions and many others have long been disputed, and practically every model of understanding anyone has ever put forth publicly for this passage has its issues.  These issues range from mere difficulties (things that require explanation to be understood), to all-out impossibilities (things that are ruled out by logical or factual conflicts with what is stated or implied by the Bible–even things that can be ruled out by our direct observation).

My work here is yet another attempt to explain what was going on in Genesis 1:6-8.  My method is to consider every piece of relevant ancient writing I can get my hands on so as to understand what the ancients believed and why.  And of course, the Bible is front and center in this investigation.  Thus will my model differ significantly from the model that one creates simply from reading Genesis 1 with nothing but the words of Genesis 1 in view.  It also differs considerably from what people tend to conclude from Genesis 1 while living in any of the typical church cultures, whose lore repeats again and again certain details of the creation that are not derived strictly from the texts of the Bible and that are even contrary to those texts in some cases.

The Gist of the Limited Firmament Theory

Here is the gist of the model of understanding that is forming in my mind as I study many, many passages of texts regarding the firmament.  I will document the following points in increasing measure as time allows.

  1. The raqiya (firmament/expanse) was limited in size.  It did not span or envelope the entire Planet Earth, but only part of it.
  2. One of the biggest (and simplest) mistakes people make in reading Genesis 1 is that they think that “Earth”=”Planet Earth”.  But God only called a certain part of it “Earth”—that section of “dry land” that he formed inside the raqiya (firmament/expanse).  Read it for yourself here:
    Genesis 1:9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth,[d] and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
    God did not call the seas “Earth”.  No, he only called the “dry land” “Earth”.  Thus, it is an error to read this passage thinking “Planet Earth” is in view, when only the particular “dry land” created “under the raqiya” is stated in the context.
  3. The raqiya was limited in duration.  It was not intended to last forever, but to be “rolled up like a scroll”.
    Isaiah 34:4 All the host of heaven shall rot away,
        and the skies roll up like a scroll.
    All their host shall fall,
        as leaves fall from the vine,
        like leaves falling from the fig tree.
    The word for “skies” here is shamayim, the very word that God used to name the firmament/expanse/raqiya here:
    Genesis 1:8 And God called the firmament Heaven.
    The firmament is no longer there at this time, but was removed in 70AD and replaced with “a new heaven” of a different sort.  Psalm 102 also bears witness to God’s long-standing plan to replace the heaven of Genesis 1 with something else:
    Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
        and the heavens (shamayim) are the work of your hands.
    26 They will perish, but you will remain;
        they will all wear out like a garment.
    You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    27     but you are the same, and your years have no end.
  4. The raqiya was referred to by practically every early historic culture as if it were a solid dome of some sort.  (Even the word raqiya is derived from raqa, which means “hammered out” or “stretched out”.)  Were these all just ill-informed primitive cultures?  No, I think they’re telling us something accurate about the raqiya as they describe it.  I doubt very seriously that it was made of hammered-out brass, but something about their metaphorical language must be true about it.  I believe it was tangible, that it could be touched and visited and left.  Other evidences on this website will support this idea.
  5. The raqiya was most likely transparent—at least in part or at times.  (Those who lived under it could still see the galaxies and constellations.  See Job 9:9.)
  6. God resided above the raqiya.  (Search “above the heavens“.)
  7. In the raqiya, which had some thickness to it, resided certain beings created by God.  Among them were “two great luminaries” who were to “rule over” the “day” and the “night” and to be for signs and seasons.
    Genesis 1:14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons,[f] and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
    These were not the literal “sun” and “moon” and “stars” that we see in space today, as so many hastily suppose, but were beings created to serve God in the administration of humankind.
  8. Ancient humans living under the raqiya could look up with the naked eye and see various activities in the raqiya above:
    1. Deuteronomy 4:19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  (Note:  It is impossible to “serve” inanimate objects, such as the literal sun and moon and stars.  Worship of beings is in view here.)
    2. Acts 2:19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
    3. Matthew 2:9b And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  (Note:  A literal star, being billions of miles from the Planet Earth, would be a TERRIBLE way to guide someone from one point on the Earth to another.  The shorter the distance traveled, the less helpful the literal stars would be.  In this story, filled with angels, this “star” is yet another of the beings created for such purposes.)
  9.  Humans built towers in an attempt to be nearer to the raqiya, or even to reach it or assail it:
    1.   Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[a] the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.  (Note:  This passage certainly seems to suggest that God thought their goal of building a tower to the heaven was possible.  Therefore, he intervened to stop them.  Note also, quite importantly, that by confusing their language, such at it was impossible for them to work together, he “dispersed them over the face of all the earth”.   We know something about where these cultures went, however, and it’s generally centered around the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing Southern Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Asia.  This is further evidence that “all the Earth” was not considered to include the entire land surface of what we now call Planet Earth.  Rather, just a section of Planet Earth was in view.
  10. The dispersal mentioned in Genesis 11:9 is also mentioned in detail here: Deuteronomy 32:When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
        when he divided mankind,
    he fixed the borders of the peoples
        according to the number of the sons of God.
    But the Lord‘s portion is his people,
        Jacob his allotted heritage.
    (Note:  This division of mankind into nations is well documented in Dr. Michael Heiser’s “Deuteronomy 32 World View” or the “Divine Council World View”.  Here is his introduction to all that. I do not mean to suggest that Dr. Heiser is an adherent to this Limited Firmament Theory.  Indeed, as far as I know, he is not even aware of it.)
  11. All the people mentioned here were dispersed to areas of the Planet that were also under the raqiya.  It seems to have centered roughly on the Mediterranean Sea, ranging as far as modern-day Spain to Turkey to Iraq, Ethiopia, and other places mentioned in the Bible.  It probably did not range to China, nor to the Americas, for example.
  12. The phrases, “to the end of the earth” and  “to the ends of the earth” are references to the extreme reaches of land underneath the raqiya—to where the raqiya “dome” was set down upon the earth.  (Note:  It is not normal language to describe the surface of an oblate spheroid–such as the Planet Earth—as having “ends”.)
  13. Like the phrase “end of the Earth”, even the phrase “end of the heavens” is in scripture.  This is not the language we would use to speak of the universe, or even of our own atmosphere.
    1. In one passage, a “distant land” is referred to as being “at the end of the heavens“.  (Isaiah 13:5)
    2. Deuteronomy 4:32 For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.  (Note:  How are humans supposed to ask “from one end of heaven to the other” if the “heaven” in view  encompasses the entire Planet Earth?  Is this just hyperbole?  Or could it be that the heaven did not span the entire surface of the Planet Earth?  Would we ever say that, “The color white spans the cue ball from end end to the other”?  No, for this is not the normal use of “end”.  Indeed, if I gave you a marker and a cue ball, and asked you to put a dot on one “end” of the ball, there is nothing in the definition of “end” that would cause you to believe that your dot should belong in one place as opposed to another.)
  14. The famous “circle” language is in reference to the extent of the raqiya.
    1. Job 26:10 He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness.
      This is not the horizon, and it’s not the ever-moving line between day and night, as some suppose.  Genesis 1:6-7 tells of this division/separation between the waters, and this present passage confirms for us that the nature of this separation had something to do also with good and evil, and not simply with H2O.
    2. Proverbs 8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
          when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
      28 when he made firm the skies above, (Notice that the skies were “firm”—a term that we would NEVER use to describe what we call “sky” today.)
          when he established the fountains of the deep,
      29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
          so that the waters might not transgress his command,
      when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
      Remember, I think there’s something of a double entendre in play here—the primary intent being the separation of good and evil, and the secondary intent being the metaphorical similarity to certain features of the Planet Earth.  Here we see that there was something in the “waters” that God wanted kept away from his new creation, so he commanded them to stay away, having “drawn a circle” and put up some manner of barrier (the raqiya) to keep them apart.
    3. Isaiah 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
      If God drew a circle first on the waters, and then made “dry land” appear inside that circle, this could well explain why it would be called “the circle of the Earth”.

God was doing a great work on the Planet Earth, and starting with a mere portion of its geography.  This theme is not new to the Bible.  Consider how Eden was small compared to the rest of the land, and how Israel was but one nation of many.  Should we really be surprised to learn that God did not choose to work with the entire surface of the planet from the beginning?  It seems he had other considerations, about which we are told very little.  And if we want to understand them, we are going to have to sort painstakingly through all the information we have.

These are just a few of the evidences I have in view for the theory, and they will have to do until time permits me to post more.